Friday, November 12, 2004

Facts Are A B*tch

The following will serve as both a helpful reminder as well as a factual history lesson for some regarding the Reagan legacy. There exists many a Republican voter who -- for whatever reason -- believe a vote for GW is equivalent to an approving nod to Reagan. Granted, GW himself has worked endlessly to foster this inaccurate image, whether it be living on the ranch, donning the cowboy hat, attempting to appear as a regular dude, etc., and too many in the base eat this up as truth.

It's worthwhile to read the article Josh Green wrote last year as it helps to clear the air concerning the widely accepted belief that Reagan was 100% a true-blue conservative. It's simply not true. In fact, in many ways, Bush makes Reagan look like McGovern! More than one Reagan groupie (and that is a fair descriptor as the Cult of Reagan has grown exponentially over the last several years, interestingly picking up speed as the GW era as proven to be a complete failure) will contest this article as they've come to embrace and worship much of the folklore surrounding Reagan. As time passes, his stature grows and the facts get white-washed and even expunged.

When reading the piece, make sure to note these passages:

* Federal government expanded on his watch. The conservative desire to outlaw abortion was never seriously pursued. Reagan broke with the hardliners in his administration and compromised with the Soviets on arms control. His assault on entitlements never materialized; instead he saved Social Security in 1983. And he repeatedly ignored the fundamental conservative dogma that taxes should never be raised.

* Rather than abolish the departments of Energy and Education, as he had promised to do if elected president, Reagan added a new cabinet-level department--one of the largest federal agencies--the Department of Veterans Affairs.

* [Re smaller government]: the number of workers on the federal payroll rose by 61,000 under Reagan. (By comparison, under Clinton, the number fell by 373,000.)

* The following year, Reagan made one of the greatest ideological about-faces in the history of the presidency, agreeing to a $165 billion bailout of Social Security. In almost every way, the bailout flew in the face of conservative ideology. It dramatically increased payroll taxes on employees and employers, brought a whole new class of recipients--new federal workers--into the system, and, for the first time, taxed Social Security benefits, and did so in the most liberal way: only those of upper-income recipients.

* Raising taxes is exactly what Reagan did. He did not always instigate those hikes or agree to them willingly--but he signed off on them. One year after his massive tax cut, Reagan agreed to a tax increase to reduce the deficit that restored fully one-third of the previous year's reduction. (In a bizarre bit of self-deception, Reagan, who never came to terms with this episode of ideological apostasy, persuaded himself that the three-year, $100 billion tax hike--the largest since World War II--was actually "tax reform" that closed loopholes in his earlier cut and therefore didn't count as raising taxes.)

* Faced with looming deficits, Reagan raised taxes again in 1983 with a gasoline tax and once more in 1984, this time by $50 billion over three years, mainly through closing tax loopholes for business. Reagan raised taxes a grand total of four times just between 1982-84.

* The historic Tax Reform Act of 1986, though it achieved the supply side goal of lowering individual income tax rates, was a startlingly progressive reform. The plan imposed the largest corporate tax increase in history--an act utterly unimaginable for any conservative to support today. When Reagan's conservative acting chief economic adviser, William Niskanen, was apprised of the plan he replied, "Walter Mondale would have been proud."

* In 1975, the Democratic senator from Louisiana had passed into law the earned income tax credit (EITC), essentially a wage subsidy for the working poor. Long's measure was tiny to begin with and had dwindled to insignificance by the time Reagan agreed to expand it in 1986 as part of the tax reform act. Despite years of opposing social insurance programs, Reagan's support of the EITC gave rise to what has become one of the most effective antipoverty measures the federal government has ever devised--by the late 1990s, the EITC was lifting 4.3 million people out of poverty every year. As evidence of its popularity with liberals, Clinton dramatically expanded the EITC in 1993.

* Reagan embraced Mikhail Gorbachev and initiated a series of negotiations that ultimately alarmed everyone in his administration. Hardliners like Patrick Buchanan, Richard Perle, and Caspar Weinberger reacted in horror to the very idea of engaging the Soviets in such talks, warning against the "grand illusion" of peace.

* As with other conservative media efforts--Rush Limbaugh, Fox News Channel, The Washington Times--the purpose of the Reagan legacy project is not to deliver accuracy, but enhance political leverage. But, as Reagan himself liked to cite from John Adams, facts are stubborn things.

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